Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Arthur William Murphy (1891–1963)

by Alan Fraser

This article was published:

Arthur William Murphy (1891-1963), engineer and airman, was born on 17 November 1891 at Kew, Melbourne, son of Adelaide-born Charles Hubert Murphy, joiner and later engineer, and his English wife Mary, née Fisher. He was educated at Melbourne High and Footscray Technical schools, served a five-year apprenticeship with Austral Otis Engineering Co. and worked in several engineering establishments. He was one of the first five Australians to enlist in 1914 in the Aviation Instructional Staff of the Permanent Military Forces for training as air mechanics at the Central Flying School, Point Cook.

With the Australian Flying Corps preparing to send its first full squadron into active service overseas, in early 1916 Sergeant Murphy volunteered for the Australian Imperial Force, entering as a private but being immediately promoted to technical warrant officer. He embarked on 16 March 1916. His work in the maintenance of the squadron's aeroplanes and equipment under trying conditions in Egypt, the Sinai desert and Palestine was recognized by a mention in dispatches in 1917.

Selected to undergo a pilot's course, Murphy trained in Egypt with the Royal Flying Corps and was granted a temporary commission as second lieutenant in the A.I.F. on 24 October. After service with the R.F.C. and further training he returned to the Australian squadron in Palestine. He and his observer accounted for several enemy aeroplanes and carried out valuable bombing and reconnaissance missions, many in support of Colonel T. E. Lawrence and his irregular forces in the Hejaz. For this work Murphy was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Hejaz Order of Nahda.

On return to Australia and termination of his A.I.F. appointment, Murphy reverted to non-commissioned rank in the regular forces, combining technical with flying duties. Late in 1919, to secure information for competitors in the first flight from England to Australia, he and Captain H. N. Wrigley, flying from Melbourne to Darwin, were the first to cross the continent by air. In an old BE2e, the airmen made about twenty landings, many of them forced, in which Murphy's practical engineering experience proved invaluable. In Darwin they met (Sir) Ross and (Sir) Keith Smith who had just arrived from England, winning the £10,000 prize. Wrigley and Murphy were both awarded the Air Force Cross. On 17 October 1922 Murphy married Alicia Logan Shoebridge at Erskine Presbyterian Church, South Carlton, Melbourne.

Joining the Royal Australian Air Force with the rank of flying officer shortly after its formation in 1921, Murphy continued in technical and flying roles, making several pioneering flights including a formation flight around Australia with the then chief of the air staff, Wing Commander (Air Marshal Sir) Richard Williams in 1927. In 1936 he was on the overseas mission which selected an American-designed aircraft, rather than a British type, for manufacture in Australia. He also participated in 1939 in negotiations to manufacture Beaufort aircraft and the establishment of the Government Aircraft Factory.

With the onset of World War II and the expansion of the R.A.A.F., Murphy played an important role in the co-ordination of aircraft production and in equipment maintenance. He reached the rank of air commodore in 1943—a striking achievement for a man who had enlisted as a trainee air mechanic. His contribution to aviation was recognized by his election as a fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society. He left the R.A.A.F. in January 1946.

Contemporaries spoke highly of his integrity and described him as a kindly but somewhat shy man with a dry sense of humour. 'Spud' Murphy died of heart disease at Essendon, Melbourne, on 21 April 1963 and was cremated at Fawkner. He was survived by two sons and a daughter.

Select Bibliography

  • F. M. Cutlack, The Australian Flying Corps (Syd, 1923)
  • L. W. Sutherland and N. Ellison, Aces and Kings (Syd, 1935)
  • R. Williams, These are Facts (Canb, 1977)
  • London Gazette, 6 July 1917, 3 June 1919, 1 Apr, 9 July 1920
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Alan Fraser, 'Murphy, Arthur William (1891–1963)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 24 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (Melbourne University Press), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


17 November, 1891
Kew, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


21 April, 1963 (aged 71)
Essendon, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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